EL SEGUNDO, CA — Last April, as the Los Angeles Kings were preparing for another deep run into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi took a few moments to look into the future, specifically, at one of his up-and-coming charges, 21-year-old left wing Tanner Pearson, who was selected by the Kings in the first round (30th overall) in the 2012 National Hockey League Draft.
“The kid we got has really done well, so we actually lucked out there,” said Lombardi. “To get Pearson with the 30th pick, he’s got a good chance.”
Last season with the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League, the 6-0, 198-pound native of Kitchener, Ontario scored 19 goals and tallied 28 assists for 47 points, with a +17 plus/minus rating and 14 penalty minutes in 64 regular season games. In four playoff games with the Monarchs, he recorded one assist.
Pearson, who signed a three-year, entry-level contract on August 3, 2012, lit up the AHL last season while playing on a line with Kings forward prospects Linden Vey at center, and with Tyler Toffoli on the right side.
“We just played shift-to-shift, and played hard on every shift,” Pearson explained. “With the talent [we had] on that line, if you played your game, you [were bound] to do something on the ice.”
Vey spoke of Pearson’s skill and his nose for the front of the net.
“He’s a real skilled player, and he’s got a great shot,” said Vey. “He’s a guy who’s not afraid to go to the net and mix it up. He’s a strong guy, he’s got a scoring touch, and he’s willing to go to the net.”
“He’s got a soft touch, he makes real clever plays in small areas, and he wins a lot of loose puck battles,” said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. “He’s real good coming down the wing—he has a real deceptive move to his forehand, which is a hard move.”
Pearson’s strong rookie season in the AHL earned him a call up to the Kings during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, making him one of the team’s Black Aces.
Little did he know that he would become much more than that.
In Game 3 of the 2013 Western Conference Semifinals against the San Jose Sharks on May 18, 2013, Pearson found himself in the lineup, making his NHL debut in a second round playoff game.
“It was a big [surprise],” Pearson said at the time. “I came up here, [and] thought I was just going to be with the Black Aces, with the guys from Manchester. To see it happen so quick, it’s really awesome. To have my first game as a playoff game, it shows you what the league is all about, and what you compete for.”
“If someone told me three years ago that I would be doing this today, I probably would’ve shook my head and laughed,” Pearson added. “But honestly, I would’ve taken it in a heartbeat.”
Pearson got just 5:44 of ice time in the game.
“He was a nervous wreck,” said Kings head coach Darryl Sutter. “That’s just the way the game was. [But] that’s experience. That’s a good thing for him.”
Indeed, Pearson is now using that experience to his advantage, as he has made a strong impression during the first week of the Kings’ 2013 Training Camp, so much so that the whispers have begun that he just might make the big club’s roster, especially after playing well in a 4-2 pre-season loss at Phoenix on September 15.
In that game, Pearson opened the scoring with a goal just 51 seconds into the game.
“The game in Phoenix—they played a lot of their top end lineup, and we played our role players, and then tried to put in some skill from the [Manchester Monarchs],” said Sutter. “Tanner is, sort of, in between that right? He’s trying to play a higher role on our team, and he’s at the high end of the American league team.”
“That’s why he stood out,” added Sutter. “He had a good game. Hopefully, he can build on it.”
Sutter is not one to heap praise on any player. Nevertheless, if you read between the lines, one can tell that he sees a lot of potential in Pearson.
“He’s a scorer,” Sutter noted. “He’s a guy who can finish, he’s played on his World Junior team, and it showed in his first year, last year. He missed about twenty games, I think, with a shoulder injury, so he scored a goal every three games. That’s pretty much what you have to do. We’re trying to get guys playing 200-foot games, which means you can’t just be a half-ice player.”
“I liked that about him even last year,” Sutter added. “We played him in the playoffs. It’s not that he was learning something different. We put him in because he’s a left winger, and we needed some offense. We thought he could give us some. But he wasn’t ready for that level of it yet. Now we’re seeing if [he’s ready]. He’s showed it in the pre-season so far, and in the rookie camp.”
“He’s got to show that he can score at this level, so we’re going to continue to play him and see if he can.”
Despite that, do not be surprised if the Kings decide to go the conservative route with Pearson, given his youth and inexperience.
“What you’re seeing now, since his draft year, is that commitment, and now those tools he has are starting to come to the fore,” Lombardi explained. “The other thing, too, is that he’s a left wing. That’s pretty important for us, down the road. The opportunity is going to be there for him.”
Lombardi stressed, as he has so many times since he became the Kings’ general manager in April 2006, that young players, unless they are generational players like a Drew Doughty, must develop properly, and not be rushed to the NHL.
“You guys know how I feel about the importance of the minor leagues, and paying your dues,” said Lombardi. “It’s not only paying your dues—that sounds like punishment. But you can’t forget that it’s a big jump. You want to make sure that you take advantage of putting that base in place that will, in the long run, serve him well.”
“We’ve talked about that for seven years now,” added Lombardi. “If you’re able to do it that way, it’s so beneficial. We’re at that stage now—before, maybe we had to rush kids because we weren’t that good a team. But you always go back to what Detroit does with Helm, Ericsson and Abdelkader—so many of those guys. It’s because they were brought along the right way.”
As noted earlier, there are whispers that “the right way” for Pearson could be with the Kings, playing left wing with center Mike Richards and right wing Jeff Carter. But there may be a stronger eastward pull, sending Pearson back to Manchester for another season of development.
Check out Jon Rosen’s (LA Kings Insider) story on Pearson: Kings Encouraged By Pearson’s Growth.
Frozen Royalty Raw Audio Interviews – 2013 Los Angeles Kings Training Camp, September 16, 2013
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed):
Willie Mitchell (2:09)
Jeff Schultz (2:14)
Darryl Sutter (3:55)
Frozen Royalty’s Tanner Pearson Coverage
- Could LA Kings 2012 First Round Pick Tanner Pearson Be Better Than Advertised?
- Pearson, Toffoli, And Vey Are Still Dealing With The Sting Of Not Making LA Kings Roster
- Passed Up Twice On Draft Day, LA Kings Prospect Tanner Pearson Reaches NHL Ice Faster Than Expected
- Dean Lombardi Says LA Kings Have “Lucked Out” With 2012 First Round Draft Pick Tanner Pearson
- Los Angeles Kings Rolled The Dice On Over-Agers Tanner Pearson, Thomas Hyka In 2012 NHL Draft
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